Maldives bans ‘India Out’ campaign
- Maldivian President recently issued a decree banning the ‘India Out’ campaign, now led by former President Abdulla Yameen, terming it a “threat to national security.”
- The Presidential order said the campaign against India “exploited” the freedoms and “intends to disrupt” the long-standing bilateral relations between the Maldives and India as well as efforts to maintain peace and security in the region.
- The move follows a recent decision by the Maldives’s National Security Council that the campaign “to incite hatred against India” is a “threat” to national security.
- The ‘India Out’ campaign, started and sustained by critics of the present administration, gained prominence in recent months with former President Yameen spearheading it.
- The campaign accuses the Maldivian government of “allowing” Indian military presence in the island nation – the government has repeatedly denied it – and, of “being a puppet” of New Delhi.
- President has opted for an ‘India first’ foreign policy and has said he is unapologetic about Male’s close ties with New Delhi.
About the 'India Out' campaign
- It is widely spreading across social media platforms.
- Reports are being published in Maldives media alleging that the present incumbent government is allowing India to establish a military base in the island by signing secret agreements, in exchange for financial assistance or other material benefits.
- This allegation is made against the government because the leader of the current ruling party Mohamed Nasheed urged India to intervene militarily to restore peace and democracy in 2018.
- Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) of former President Abdulla Yameen and its coalition partner People’s National Congress (PNC) are trying to mobilise people against the current government by spreading misleading propaganda against India.
- Indiaout campaign was launched by the opposition coalition PPM and PNC both on the street as well as on social media demanding the expulsion of Indian military personnel present in the country.
How India has become a victim of the internal political situation in the Maldives?
- During former President’s Yameen’s term as President from 2013 to 2018, New Delhi-Male relations deteriorated drastically.
- On the other hand, the present administration opted for an ‘India first’ foreign policy.
- The government has rejected the ‘India Out’ campaign and has expressed concern at attempts to spread “misguided and unsubstantiated information to propagate hatred towards India”.
- India’s requested to take action against local media and have repeatedly urged people to not spread hate against India.
- Foreign ministry’s urged the media not to affect bilateral relations and, as per article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it is the responsibility of the Maldives to treat the diplomats with due respect, and take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on freedom, and dignity of foreign diplomats.
India-Maldives bilateral Relations:
- Historical relations:
- Both nations’ were Britain colonies.
- India was among the first to recognise Maldives after its independence in 1965 and to establish diplomatic relations with the country. India established its mission at Malé in 1972.
- India and Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links steeped in antiquity and enjoy cordial and multi-dimensional relations.
- Political relations:
- India and Maldives have consistently supported each other in multilateral fora such as the UN, the Commonwealth, the NAM and the SAARC.
- High connectivity: High People-to-People contacts, as Air India operates daily flights to Malé from Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore and Chennai.
- Tourism: The proximity of location and improvements in air connectivity in recent years has led to a very substantial increase in the number of Indians visiting Maldives for tourism (around 33,000) and business.
- Soft diplomacy: India is a preferred destination for Maldivian for education, medical treatment, recreation and business.
- Diaspora: Indians are the second largest expatriate community in the Maldives.
Importance of Maldives for India
- Geo-Strategic Importance:
- Maldives, a Toll Gate in Indian Ocean:
- Located at the southern and northern parts of this island chain lies the two important Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs).
- These SLOCs are critical for maritime trade flow between the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Hormuz in West Asia and the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia.
- Nearly 50% of India’s external trade and 80% of its energy imports transit these SLOCs in the Arabian Sea.
- Maldives, a Toll Gate in Indian Ocean:
- Part of Important Groupings
- Besides, Maldives is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC).
- Disaster Management:
- The 2004 tsunami and the drinking water crisis in Male a decade later were other occasions when India rushed assistance.
- The Maldives has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Covid-19 assistance and vaccines delivered by India among India’s all of neighbouring countries.
- When the world supply chains were blocked because of the pandemic, India continued to provide crucial commodities to the Maldives under Mission SAGAR.
- People To People Contact:
- Maldivian students attend educational institutions in India and patients fly here for superspeciality healthcare, aided by a liberal visa-free regime extended by India.
- Economic Cooperation:
- Tourism is the mainstay of Maldivian economy. The country is now a major tourist destination for some Indians and a job destination for others.
- Given the geographical limitations imposed on the Maldives, India has exempted the nation from export curbs on essential commodities.
- China factor:
- India has been quite apprehensive of the growing Chinese influence in Maldives even as it continues to give utmost priority to the island nation.
- There have been growing concerns regarding China’s role in the Maldivian economy through so-called “debt-trap diplomacy.”
- Maldives incurred a debt of about $1.4 billion owing to loans from China to finance several of its infrastructure projects.
- Maldives and China had also entered into a free trade agreement.
- India’s position in Male crisis:
- During the pro-Beijing regime of their former President Abdulla Yameen, ties between the nations got strained. In fact, there came a point in 2018 when India even contemplated a military intervention.
- Dhruv controversy:
- India gave two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) to the Maldives in 2010 and 2015 both of which were to be used for ocean search-and-rescue operations, maritime weather surveillance and for airlifting patients between islands.
- However, some people in the PPM stirred up a controversy by saying that the helicopters marked the start of military presence in the country.
- The Maldives government requested India to take back the helicopters in 2016, but India refused to do
- Lack of transparency
- Another issue is the lack of transparency when it comes to the signing of agreements between India and the Solih government.
- The Maldives government has refused to share details of agreements signed with India citing security reasons
- The Naval Base controversy
- The Uthuru Thilafalhu is a strategically located atoll near the capital Malé and was called the UTF Harbour project.
- Also, in 2016, an action plan was signed by both the governments for defence cooperation to enhance “shared strategic and security interests of the two countries in the Indian Ocean region”.
- However, after the Solih government took over, there was speculation that the UTF project would be turned into an Indian naval base.
- Political Instability
- India’s major concern has been the impact of political instability in the neighbourhood on its security and development.
- The February 2015 arrest of Maldives’ opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges and the consequent political crisis have posed a real diplomatic test for India’s neighbourhood policy.
- In the past decade or so, the number of Maldivians drawn towards terrorist groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based madrassas and jihadist groups has been increasing.
- This gives rise to the possibility of Pakistan based terror groups using remote Maldivian islands as a launch pad for terror attacks against India and Indian interests.
Measures taken so far:
- After coming to power for the second time in May last year, Prime Minister Modi’s first international destination was Maldives. He was also the only head of state to attend Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s swearing-in ceremony in November 2018, when he came to power ousting Yameen.
- India has also offered a $1.4-billion development assistance package to Maldives, which is being utilised in several projects.
- 30 years ago, in 1988, an intervention by the Indian armed forces - codenamed 'Operation Cactus' - trounced an attempted coup on the island nation. On November 3, 1988, when mercenaries attacked the Maldives, India was the first to respond.
- In 2004, when the tsunami hit Maldives, Indian naval ships were dispatched to assist the rescue operation.
- During the Male water crisis. Within four hours Indian Navy and Air Force vessels delivered water.
- Past learnings:
- Despite repeated calls for intervention, India firmly avoided military action against the Yameen regime. New Delhi thoughtfully coordinated its diplomatic response with other stakeholders, and put enormous pressure on Yameen to hold the presidential elections in a fair and transparent manner. This patience seems to have yielded a positive outcome as India finds itself in an advantageous situation now.
- Cautious approach:
- India needs to remain careful if it wants to avoid a Nepal-like situation, where New Delhi’s perceived interference in Nepal’s internal affairs had turned the Nepali people against India. Having a lighter diplomatic footprint is the only way forward in the Maldives.’
- India- Maldives cooperation and agreements
- Location based questions
- South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation
- South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)
- 'India Out' campaign
Q. India has always been a major stakeholder in South Asian waters and Indian Ocean region. Discuss the role of Maldives in securing India’s strategic interests in the region.